Francisco Lindor was caught in an awkward position on Monday: eager to show enthusiasm about joining a new team while not forgetting about the one he left behind.
Lindor, a superstar shortstop, spent nine years growing and developing in Cleveland’s organizational family. He took time to express love for that city and its fans. He had always expected that team to wrap him in the cloak of a long-term contract, never letting him go.
But after Cleveland concluded that it would not meet Lindor’s expectations for a contract extension, it sent him to the Mets in last week’s blockbuster trade.
Lindor enjoyed his time in Cleveland, but during a video conference call on Monday he could barely contain his glee about joining a team building toward something big, with him right at the center.
“There has been so much excitement about the Mets that I couldn’t help myself but to be excited and happy,” he said. “It’s a new opportunity for me and my family. I’m blessed.”
Flashing his signature smile beneath a crisp, new Mets cap, the amiable Lindor spoke to reporters for about 30 minutes, promising to bring the full Francisco Lindor experience to his new team. That entails brilliant defense at shortstop, game-changing power and speed on offense, a shrewd understanding of the game, and a passionate, effervescent personality that adds a dose of sparkle and flair to the whole package.
“I’m going to do me on a daily basis,” Lindor said. “Hopefully that’s good enough for my teammates and the fans.”
It likely will be for 2021, but many Mets fans, already enamored with the idea of having one of the best shortstops in baseball, want to know if Lindor will be a Met beyond the coming season.
Nothing said on Monday indicated that Lindor, who turned 27 on Nov. 14, will not engage the Mets in contract discussions before the season starts. He said he has already had a casual conversation with Steve Cohen, the team’s new owner, who has the resources and the resolve to give Lindor what he wants. But that chat was mostly a chance for Cohen to welcome Lindor aboard.
Lindor said he also spoke to several players, including Pete Alonso, Marcus Stroman, Edwin Diaz and Michael Conforto, and members of the coaching and front office staffs.
The trade was a strong signal that the Mets intend to sign Lindor long term, with a price tag likely to be higher than $200 million. The team acquired Lindor and the pitcher Carlos Carrasco in exchange for infielders Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez, the pitching prospect Josh Wolf and the outfield prospect Isaiah Greene.
Sandy Alderson, the Mets’ chief of baseball operations, said last week that he expected to talk to Lindor’s agent about the future in the coming weeks. Lindor said he welcomed the discussion, but he gently put a time frame on negotiations by pointing to his business history.
“I have never negotiated a contract during the season,” he said. “Never. I’ve always said either before spring training, but once it gets to a point in spring training, it’s time to enjoy the ride and focus on winning. That’s the only thing I should be focused on — not how much money do I get, how much money do I need to get for my family. No, it’s about focusing on every day, my task.”
When talks between Lindor’s agent and Cleveland came to an impasse, Lindor began to think about the prospect of reaching free agency, with all the excitement and anticipation that entails. For some players, free agency itself is a goal, but Lindor said it was not necessarily his.
He noted a comparison between him and Mookie Betts, the former Red Sox star outfielder who was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers just days before last year’s spring training began. Betts later agreed to a 12-year, $365 million contract with the Dodgers before he’d played a regular-season game with the team. A few months after signing his extension, Betts helped L.A. win its first World Series since 1988.
It is a tantalizing pattern to follow for Lindor and the Mets.
“Mookie fell into a great situation and felt comfortable with the L.A. Dodgers and made the decision that was best for him and his family,” Lindor said. “And I’m excited to be with the Mets organization, and I continue to emphasize I’m not against a long term. I’m not against it. It has to make sense for both sides.”
Lindor has only played 20 games in New York — 17 at Yankee Stadium and three at Citi Field — but said he likes the city and knows what he’ll do when he first arrives in town.
“I love pizza,” he said and smiled. “I’ll probably eat some pizza.”
That glowing smile, Lindor said, is the product of his good fortune in life: playing baseball for millions and being healthy. (Lindor is noted for his durability, missing four or fewer games in all but one of his five seasons as a full-time regular.)
“Why not smile?” he asked. “I’m living my dream, the life I always wanted.”
Another thing New York provides is a large, hospitable Latino community that supports baseball. Lindor is from Caguas, Puerto Rico, as are the parents of Cohen’s wife, Alex Cohen. Lindor said he plans to soak up the love from New York and the Mets’ fan base.
So, if you spot Lindor in town buying a slice, give him a shout.
“Do not be afraid to yell at me,” he said. “I’ll yell back. I might not be able to hug now with the virus and stuff. But at least a wave or a ‘What’s up?’ from the distance. They’ll definitely get that, for sure.”